Patreon(/Soundcloud) - the politics/power of the middleman


@Rodrigo, thank you for tagging me in this – I feel like you, me and @Angela have had a lot of off-lines conversations navigating these ideas and I appreciate the opportunity to discuss them out loud!

[quote=“Rodrigo, post:1, topic:8695”]
Now, although it would be interesting and worthwhile to talk about the specifics of the situation […] it would be worthwhile to unpack the functionality of “active” middlemen in an increasingly democratized world.[/quote]

This got buried, as the specifics of the situation define how I (and look like many others) unpack the functionality of this middleman. I don’t want to bury this any further, but I can’t strip the frame of this situation from my attitude about Patreon. So let me break this post up…


Making on Patreon means you are using a tool somebody else created to support your own work. There are plenty of ways to do this on your own, but this tool makes it easy to connect with folks directly and package things nicely. You don’t pay to sign up, you just pay if your work receives patronage. The platform is Jack’s creation and I think Jack can exercise his own free speech in electing to cancel his sponsorship of the accounts. I completely understand how it could be argued that this normalizes censorship or that this is “picking and choosing” ethics, but Patreon isn’t the US Congress silencing a rebel voice. It’s not even a private company firing an employee on issues of ideology. The decision to shut down hate speech on a platform this guy owns (and a lot of Lauren Southern’s speech is; the gut check of “If I belonged to these groups of people being talked about, would I like being talked about like this?” makes this pretty indisputable), is a good show of this guy building the world he wants to see. I wish he hadn’t hid behind such a neutral argument, honestly …

… and I couldn’t agree more!. But he paid out these folks’ earnings and, after watching practices over time, made a call based on his beliefs. Totally valid, in my book — as Patreon is not the US Congress, it doesn’t need to be a neutral platform. Honestly, Patreon seems like a direct extension of how Jack wants to see the world and I think it’s his responsibility to make these calls.

I love @guillaume’s point of how free Lauren Southern and Co. are to create their version of Patreon. This would make for a way weirder situation and the only version of this where rights of “free speech” can possibly be grey, which is whether or not this business would be judged as protected First Amendment expression by Congress and would be able to operate.

lager questions:

Now, this becomes messy if Patreon is the only platform in town that helps artists get paid. In small ways, it does border social monopoly. I can’t readily think of a micro-donation platform that allows folks to fund others beyond single projects, with secure credit card processing and the ability to host large files indefinitely.

Nonetheless, arguments for (and definitions of) decentralization are complicated. For makers trying to reach larger audiences, these centralized-ish tools are pretty enabling. And even as I look at building a website to host the podcast (vs Soundcloud), the path of least resistance means using Amazon Web Services in the process. It is simply the most stable option, but it’s also just another centralized tool. But now it’d be more “behind the scenes” – is that the differentiation, in terms of Internet politics and ethics?

I love Mat Dryhurst’s work on this front. Rather than fight centralization by solely focusing on dismantling current services, he builds and gives tools to artists so that they can make their model more compelling. Which, at the end of the day, seems like a really good way to destroy something – use the same tactics and elevate your model to outpace the one you disagree with. To get mumbo jumbo-y, we would benefit from finding more ways to marry horizontalism with the successes of vertical organization (and leaving out all the macho shit) so that these changes can scale and become the new universality.


Again, trying to decouple it from the specifics of this particular situation, but I think that a lot of ‘hate speech’, in general, falls under ‘free speech’ (until it meets violence, which is also a complicated discussion in and of itself). There are many examples which fall under this, but that is besides the point at the moment. The relevance to this discussion, however, is that people with different views should still be able to discuss them.

@Dan_Derks, a lot of good points in there.

The specifics of this case really muddy the waters, as Lauren is most certainly not a positive edge case, so in that sense I do apologize for the kind of “mess” this has brought up, as my intention (and interest!) was not to talk about immigration and nationalism, but:

As you point out, this is all well and good, as it’s his company, and he’s doing what he thinks is right. The issue is the (lack of) transparency. If Patreon is a platform for things that happen to line up with Jack’s beliefs (as similar as they are likely to be to my own), it’s important to know going forward.

Not to get into the specifics of this case, the relevance of mentioning this bit is that our emotional responses are not really effective gauges of things, and in many cases can point to the opposite conclusion due to the backfire effect/confirmation bias, which The Oatmeal does a great job of animating/unpacking:

Patreon is most definitely not, although it is a good platform for this. Most things online still run through Paypal or CCs, which are also companies which can choose to cut people/organizations off as well (like wikileaks).

I remember you mentioning Mat Dryhurst on one of the last times we spoke, but with moving and everything I haven’t gone through it too deeply, but it does seem especially relevant now.

And to reiterate, the reason I brought this up is NOT because of Lauren Southern. It’s not even really because of freedom of speech/discourse (although that is closer to the point), but it’s more about the (increasing) reliance of active technological bodies in our daily lives, and how we choose to engage/deal with that.

Lastly, I have to say that this thread leaves a bad taste in my mouth as well, in that “talking about politics at Thanksgiving” kind of way. What makes it even worse is they are not my politics at all(!), and are primarily an unfortunate component of the edge case that brought this to my attention.


thank you @Dan_Derks and @Rodrigo for bringing this thread back to the original topic. this is a tricky subject for all the reasons given already, but the core issue of corporate/middleman dominance of tools/mediums is incredibly important.

just to point at a similar thing went down with shopify earlier this year:

my favorite panel from the oatmeal comic:

just remember that your worldview isn’t a perfect house that was built to last forever. it’s a cheap condo, and over time most of it will turn to shit.


ack. at risk of inserting adam curtis in too many threads, this newer interview delves a little deeper into related topics. the finance industry being perhaps the ultimate middleman, wielding perhaps the most power.


I can’t help but speculate that this might be part of the cause for Jack’s circumspect explanation. “This is about observable behavior, not politics” may be something any CEO needs to be able to say if they want to participate in large financial transactions that may involve actors subscribing to a diversity of political perspectives.


I really like @guillaume 's insight. I hadn’t considered the difference between those two categories before…or even those two things as categories. And now to mix a little of that with @tehn’s point that these middlemen–the ones through which livelihoods flow–wield a great deal of power.

Perhaps there is a third category…or maybe just the publisher category with an asterisk when it is through you that people receive income: Publi$her*

Whatever you think of Lauren, she is unable to appeal and was given no prior warning. Also a revenue stream which I’m sure she considered to be reliable/predictable (and thus surely budgeted for future content/projects/expenses) dried up without warning. Literally from one day to the next. Snap Poof*. Even at a job they give you some notice. And this is so you can start looking for another job. Otherwise you’re just screwed.

(Now, you might say she’s doing ok for herself, but I don’t think it’s ok to specifically treat someone more harshly than I would want to be treated, just because they make more money.)

In this video Jack does say he’ll start looking into creating an appeals process…but it seems to be too late for Lauren and who knows how many others that just had their followers/cash-flow evaporate. Even if it just takes them a month to get their followers on a new platform…and not all will follow. It is VERY hard to get people on board and donate regularly. There is a real cost. There is a responsibility not to do this to people and their livelihoods.

For two months Rod and I had our bank accounts locked down–from one day to the next snap poof*-- for purely beurocratic reasons. That’s when I realized I could break out in hives.

I think Patreon is either cool being a steamroller, or not aware that they are a steamroller. (Edit: part of this is that Jack chose to make a PR video FIRST, rather than extend Lauren the courtesy of explaining it to her privately. That was also in bad taste.)


I think they’re totally cool with it, and entirely aware. I also don’t really have a problem with it, personally (In fact, I applaud what is clearly a politically motivated act, and simply wish he’d be honest about the true motivations, while also understanding there are probably financial reasons for being circumspect).

I understand your concern, but where I’m coming from: I’d never dream of depending entirely on Patreon for all the reasons you state. This is why I have had a corporate job or a list of corporate clients, for over two decades now. It’s simply more reliable. That doesn’t mean I don’t see the huge problems of capitalism that I am very much a party to. It means I’m willing to accept the compromise in order to participate in the corner of society I’ve chosen to participate in.

But Patreon seems like a nice way to get a little side stream of income going. Nothing I’d want to depend on. What I’d call “coffee money”. I know people desperately want to find a way to enable more independent arts lifestyles, but I suspect the best way to go about this is really nothing new at all. Fierce independence, true independence, has never been easy. (It seems to be considerably easier if you have inherited some wealth or lucked into some windfall somewhere along the way, which is one reason I am careful not to admire too strenuously those who seem to have achieved artistic independence, until I know the full backstory.)


Abstracted out: That’s all well and good when it’s your team that’s winning (and I know you’d have considered this) but how can you feel good about the punishment of people you don’t agree with politically knowing that next time the tables could be turned? Especially when it comes to something as important as livelihood*. Which sure–I agree–Patreon is no longer a reliable platform on which to build (not that I thought that to begin with). It’s just too important.

There are lots of examples of this.

*Sam Harris can buy a lot of coffee for $50k a month


“feel good” is not how I’d describe it. More like “accept it as a fact of life”. It happens all the time. And usually, the tables ARE turned. So yes, I do prefer it when my team wins, especially since it’s not the default thing at all.

I’m glad Sam Harris works the Patreon better than I could ever dream of. Good for him. For me it would likely be more like $50/month. So, am I supposed to get excited about defending Sam from a hypothetical political threat?

I also think it’s very important to keep the distinction clear between government suppression of speech and corporate decision-making about transactions. It’s not helpful to compare apples and chainsaws.


Yeah, you’re right. That was a messy example and I do want to maintain the distinction (that’s why I didn’t drag this into freedom of speech territory…which is really only a thing in so far as government response is concerned).

And I also take your point that it’s a crap shoot (chute?)(re: “accept as a fact of life”), and have said similar things as to what you’re saying now.


In this spirit, I think it’s also fair to differentiate between speech and activities that inflict harm (or have strong potential to inflict harm) vs differing political ideologies (i.e. conservative vs liberal) or discrimination based on beliefs or personhood (discrimination of religion, sexuality, race, gender, etc.)

So much of the time I see people fighting for the rights of so called “conservatives” it is, unfortunately, a case where the person crying discrimination was actually perpetrating activities or ideas that directly cause harm. This is not conservatism, liberalism, or any political ideology. This is bigotry, harmful/illegal actions, hate speech, and more.

Lauren Southern’s specific case is complicated, as it’s hard to prove if the funds from her Patreon account were going to support the actions of quasi-militant groups like “Defend Europe”, but it looks plausible.

I also think that it’s completely within the rights of a private organization to cease doing business with people on ethical grounds, as long as they can show that it is not discrimination. IMO, that’s pretty clear in this case since they can show a connection between Southern and groups perpetrating illegal and/or unethical activities.

If they had banned her just for being right-wing/neo-con/whatever that would be a big problem, I don’t see that here. She pushed it too far by joining up with European militant groups, which Patreon doesn’t want to fund.

Now, if they don’t also ban other pages that promote violence or align with violent groups then we have a clear double standard that needs to be addressed asap.

Good overview of the case here:

(Canadaland is also a generally great show about the media and journalism, with a Canadian focus)


I could be just letting my optimist underwear show, but wouldn’t this kind of thinking just reinforce the “us vs them” thinking/problems in general? Surely a better ideal to strive for would be transparency (not saying this is different, as he (Jack) could be transparent about “us” winning), rightness, etc… In this case, I don’t agree with Lauren Southern’s politics (nor Breitbart’s, in the example @tehn posted above), but I don’t think they should lose their funding as a result of that.

Now this is presuming that the “they” in your post refers to people with differing (political) views, and not people who are pro-murder. In which case, I am definitely on team pro-don’t murder.

There is some truth to this, but with groups like Antifa, and nazi-punching becoming mainstream/accepted, I wouldn’t relegate “perpetrating activities that directly cause harm” to “the right”. Which is why I think transparency (and consistency) is important here.

Going with the Manifest Observable Behavior (god, what unpleasant corporate-speak), Patreon has shown it has no problem with militant/violent groups at all. As long as they are left-leaning. The IGD page has been reported over and over, and for a while now:

And when this was brought to the attention of the DevOps engineer at Patreon he had this to say:

Since the whole (deleted) tweet doesn’t embed right, his tweet was:

“This looks like a great group with a good mission statement. I see no problem. We need active anti-fascist groups in the age of Trump.”

Now, this is somewhat a moot point as they have since banned IGD as well, BUT not before Lauren Southern (or her video response pointing out the inconsistency, the timing of which is not without suspicion).

So they not only allowed, but publicly condoned (via an employee at least), a group whose stated purpose was violence, and actively engaged with actions which MASSIVELY endanger human life (pouring concrete on train tracks) vs a conservative journalist who has ties with an organization whose stated goal is anti-human trafficking (I do concede that there can be a difference between their stated intentions and their observable behavior, but the IGD account doesn’t even get that much wiggle room).

So to say that it isn’t politically motivated doesn’t really hold water (even with people who agree with the decision).

And to reiterate, as I am currently arguing towards something I disagree with politically, I am NOT pro-Lauren Southern, and NOT pro-Defend Europe. But I am most definitely NOT for policy discrimination based on political beliefs.

And since it’s relevant, Tim Pool’s response (to Jack Conte’s response (to Lauren Southern’s banning))).


Could be my pessimist underwear showing, but I figure it’s us vs. them whether you want it to be that way or not. And that’s because “they” insist on it. I’m referring to resistance to hegemony in self-defense, of course.

There is a war between the rich and poor,
A war between the man and the woman.
There is a war between the ones who say there is a war
And the ones who say there isn’t.
Why don’t you come on back to the war, that’s right, get in it,
Why don’t you come on back to the war, it’s just beginning.
Well I live here with a woman and a child,
The situation makes me kind of nervous.
Yes, I rise up from her arms, she says “I guess you call this love”
I call it service.
Why don’t you come on back to the war, don’t be a tourist,
Why don’t you come on back to the war, before it hurts us,
Why don’t you come on back to the war, let’s all get nervous.
You cannot stand what I’ve become,
You much prefer the gentleman I was before.
I was so easy to defeat, I was so easy to control,
I didn’t even know there was a war.
Why don’t you come on back to the war, don’t be embarrassed,
Why don’t you come on back to the war, you can still get married.
There is a war between the rich and poor,
A war between the man and the woman.
There is a war between the left and right,
A war between the black and white,
A war between the odd and the even.
Why don’t you come on back to the war, pick up your tiny burden,
Why don’t you come on back to the war, let’s all get even,
Why don’t you come on back to the war, can’t you hear me speaking?

  • Leonard Cohen

(I’m happy to see antifa thrown out of Patreon as well, and I’m disappointed that the inconsistency had to be pointed out)


Yes, agreed. IMO, it would be totally ok for them to say “this is about politics, and we as a company will only support political agendas that align with our ideals.” That would be open and honest, then people can choose to do business with them or not.

I also think there’s a discussion tangential to the corporate/business ethics worth having about groups that do violence as a means to oppress and subjugate (hate), vs groups that do violence as a means to defend and stop oppression. Personally, I don’t think those two are the same thing and I have supported anti-oppression violence in the past, although some groups go way too far - there is a line.

And wrapped up in all of this is a discussion about the difference between business decisions, oppression, free speech, and discrimination… which is very complex but absolutely important.

And one more intersection to through into this topic is the difference between law and acceptability. We always have to make communal choices about where the lines are on speech and actions that we accept as a society. Some of the differences between acts considered discriminatory and acts considered within a businesses’s right to choose who they work with come down to legal decisions based on societal standards. For example, a business refusing service to a hate group is not the same as a business refusing service to a same sex couple. It is also complicated by what the service is, what the business is, and how essential it is. Blanket rules and beliefs often don’t work very well when they hit the reality of society and life… Some things can be left up to market forces, and some need legislation to protect vulnerable populations.

IMO, the USA could also learn something from countries that have free speech with real legal limitations on hate speech.

(one additional thought, since this post isn’t long enough yet :wink: – I am an independent designer with a small business. I have turned down projects with companies and organizations I don’t support like Big Tobacco, Pharma, and Military. I don’t have a clear policy, I look at the facts I have to work with and decide if I’ll be ok with the transaction. This isn’t that different than the case we’re discussing, except for how public it is and the size of my business.)

Thanks for reading this exceptionally long and probably rambling post :slight_smile:


The trouble with punching nazis is that it’s a little too easy to say “look! over there! a nazi!”

It’s the same problem I have with superhero movies: “punching things solves complex problems”.

Yep. But this is an important point: such countries deal with this in their legislatures and courts. (avoiding the “look! a nazi!” problem)



And that therein lies the problem with ‘violence as (pre-emptive) defence’. The justification for violence is often determined by where one falls on a political spectrum. I think there are a minority (or at least an amount that is less than the sum total) on the “other side” that are violent because they are evil, rather than doing what they think is “right”.


Hegemony does not require our consent to involve us in its violence. There certainly ARE evil people in the world, and some political ideologies are more likely than others to give cover to such individuals as they build and exert power over others.

So, I’m actually in favor of folks doing what they think is right, and I’m in favor of doing the necessary thing to defeat evil where it emerges. I’m not really a pacifist in an absolute sense. But each of us is potentially fallible in our perceptions of all these values, which is why we keep talking about it. The discussion is an error-correcting mechanism that helps clean up obsolete or incorrect ideas as we collectively learn and grow as a society. I want to reach for words, thoughts, feelings, expression, emotion, to work it out with each other, long before I resort to violence. In fact, there is no need for me to initiate violence at any time, because those who would be my targets will inevitably bring the fight to me. After all, that’s precisely the problem I have with such people.


at risk of inserting adam curtis in too many threads



If you dont mind reading european old-media, have a look at china’s solution. Currently tested in twelve cities with nationwide rollout by 2020. Your tax rates and privileges (like access to the best seats on the commute) will be controlled with “social media” type controls of your general behaviour. Time to start practice helping old ladies over the street.

"We may reach the point where no one would even dare to think of breaching trust, a point where no one would even consider hurting the community. If we reached this point, our work would be done.”

Creating the honest man.


Fuck me, that’s terrifying…

I mean, I applaud the intention, but something like that could completely shut down dissent of any kind.

Using this as a metaphor obviously places it at the bottom of the slippery slope, but it’s not difficult to extrapolate the minefield that would be trying to engage with the world through companies that all censure/discriminate on the political beliefs of its owners/users.